During the mid-1980's the Fiat group began to rationalise it chassis/platforms so that the same body could be used on different Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia models.
The Pininfarina designed Thema, which replaced the Gamma, was the first of the Fiat group models to pioneer the new platform, sharing it with the Fiat Croma. As was to be expected the Lancia version sat at the top of the new range, with a sporty Alfa Romeo version just below it.
The Fiat group needed the Thema to be successful, particularly in the UK market where the Lancia Beta
had suffered extremely poor press, due mainly to the perceived rust problems and subsequent safety issues. There was no doubting the Italian cars of that era did suffer from rust more than most others, but the drubbing in the press was a little over the top.
Lancia gambled on a media campaign that included two page advertisments in many high-brow publications. Just one such advertisement stated the following..."We have to admit it, we love being first. 25 years ago we built the first Italian car with front wheel drive. Independent suspension was one of our ideas: integral body construction another. Now we're keeping up the tradition with a totally new driving experience. The Lancia Thema".
"Never before has one car offered you so much sporting brio couched in so much sedan comfort. Inside, it's big, plush and superbly appointed. While under the bonned lurks a 4-cylinder turbo charged 165 HP engine. It has an intercooler and overboost protection derived from formula one engines. It can hit 0-100 kph in just 7.2 seconds and achieve a top speed of 218 kph. But you'd never think it."
"The engine purrs along softly. Beautifully balanced on counter-rotating shafts. For the family-man Fangios out there, we've even produced a 6-cylinder V-engine (the sort that power-housed our Lancias round the Mille Miglia back in the 50's). We've got a turbodiesel model by far the fastest one of its type. And a 2000 with electronic fuel injection that ranks with the best in Europe today. The Themas incorporate a wealth of new thinking and advanced technology. What better way of keeping yourself ahead?"
As mentioned in the advertising blurb above, the Thema came with a choice of either a 1995cc four cylinder (petrol), 2849cc V6 or a 2445cc Turbo Diesel. To counter the "rusting chassis" issues, the Thema used a galvanized steel chassis and rust protection that equaled or bettered that of its competitors. Build quality was higher than the Fiat Croma's and on par with the Saab 9000's. The sales organisation, however, was poor in many markets and secondhand values for the car suffered.
Production of the Thema ceased in 1994 when Lancia withdrew from right-hand drive markets (including the United Kingdom) in response to dwindling popularity and sales. (The station wagon version was never offered in right-hand drive.) Lancia continued, however, to be one of the most popular manufacturers in the Italian market and the Thema's replacement, the Lancia Kappa, sold well.